Legendary table tennis player Funke Oshonaike has warned that Nigeria’s female players risk being perpetually in the shadow of Egyptian Dina Meshref if nothing is done to help them improve.
The table tennis team event gets underway today at the 2019 African Games in Morocco with Egypt, winners of the women’s team event in the last two editions of the African Games likely to provide Nigeria with the stiffest opposition in the jostle for the gold medal and a place at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Africa’s top-ranked female player and defending singles champion Meshref who gave busybuddiesng.com some insight into why she’s so much better than her competition on the continent has been nigh on unplayable and exerts an incredible level of dominance in Africa having won six consecutive ITTF Africa Cup women’s singles titles and seven in total.
But Oshonaike who won singles gold at the 2007 African Games in Algiers and was part of the team that won Nigeria’s last gold medal in the women’s team event that same year, believes the 25-year old Egyptian enjoys a level of support from Egypt that her Nigerian counterparts can only dream of.
“They [Egypt] are spending money on her [Meshref] and that is what they are not doing in Nigeria,” Oshonaike said in an interview with busybuddiesng.com.
“[Meshref] attends almost every competition. The Egyptians are really, really supporting her, they don’t talk her down she goes everywhere but the problem we have in Nigeria: lack of funds.
“It’s always no money, no money, no money. You cannot be telling athletes that there is no money and you want the best from them. So, if we continue with this no money issue, Dina will continue to be champion because she goes everywhere. She is not supposed to be beating us because we’ve got talent in Nigeria but if we just stay in Nigeria, we don’t go for international competitions then how are going to improve?” Oshonaike queried.
The 45-year old who is bidding to become the first African woman to compete at six different Olympics warned that Nigeria’s reticence to invest in female players and afford them the opportunity of honing their skills at international competitions means the country cannot hope to have a player who can challenge Meshref any time soon.
“Dina is rated number one to fifty in the world, right now the next Nigerian is one hundred and something and that is because we don’t go for competitions.
“Things have to change if they don’t, I’m so sorry to tell Nigerians that Dina will continue like that.”
Africa’s top-ranked player Quadri Aruna leads the men’s team which also has veteran and four-time African Games singles champion Segun Toriola, Jide Omotayo, Bode Abiodun and fast-rising teenage sensation Mati Taiwo. The women’s team includes 2007 African Games singles champion Olufunke Oshonaike, 2011 African Games singles champion Edem Effiong, 2011 African Games women’s doubles gold medallist CeciliaAkpan, national champion Ajoke Ojomu and Fatimo Bello.
Nigeria, Madagascar and Kenya will jostle in Group A of the men’s team event with Egypt, Congo DRC and Eritrea occupying Group B. In the women’s draw, Egypt as the top seed is in Group A with Kenya and Morocco while Nigeria has been pitched against Uganda and Congo Brazzaville in Group B.
The top seven teams in the event will also secure qualification to the 2020 World Team Championships holding in Busan, South Korea.
MEN: Group A (Nigeria, Madagascar, Kenya); Group B (Egypt, Congo DRC, Eritrea); Group C (Congo Brazzaville, Mauritius, Angola); Group D (Algeria, Senegal, Ethiopia); Group E (Togo, Ghana, Djibouti); Group F (South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco)
WOMEN: Group A (Egypt, Kenya, Morocco); Group B (Nigeria, Uganda, Congo Brazzaville); Group C (Algeria, Mauritius, Congo DRC); Group D (Tunisia, South Africa, Ethiopia).
Two teams from each group advance to the next stage with the winner in the men and women events qualifying for Tokyo 2020.